California lawmakers sought Thursday to prohibit the smoking of marijuana on commercial party buses and limousines amid concerns from law enforcement officials that the drug could impair drivers and pose a risk of accidents.
Since California voters legalized the sale and recreational use of cannabis in 2016, companies have sprung up that take customers on tours of cannabis businesses, much like firms that offer crawls to wineries and breweries, state officials said.
The ban was proposed in the last week of the Legislature for the year as an alternative to a competing bill that would have clarified that cannabis could be used in charter buses as long as nobody under age 21 was aboard and the driver compartment was sealed off from the smoking area.
The legislation approved by the Assembly on Thursday was welcomed by Kevin Sabet, head of the anti-cannabis group Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
“Today’s marijuana is super strength and highly potent,” Sabet said. “Allowing use on party buses and limousines would have been dangerous and irresponsible.”
The legislation was opposed by the California Cannabis Industry Assn., whose executive director Lindsay Robinson said it “runs counter to the will of California voters when they overwhelmingly approved Proposition 64.”
The industry group had supported the competing legislation.
“Cannabis tourism is on the rise and represents a key opportunity for economic growth in California,” Robinson said in a letter to lawmakers, adding that the bill “will have a chilling effect on the cannabis tourism industry and threatens the livelihoods of the operators who have well-established businesses already operating throughout the state.”
The bill sent to the governor by the Legislature was introduced by the Assembly Committee on Transportation.
Assemblyman Jim Frazier (D-Discovery Bay), the panel’s chairman, told his colleagues during Thursday’s floor session that the bill, which would make several changes to the law, is needed “to improve transportation policy in California.”
Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) said he agreed to shelve his separate bill that originally would have allowed cannabis use on party buses, saying the delay was needed to permit more time for law enforcement and transportation experts to work out a way to avoid marijuana smoke affecting drivers.
“These are controversial operations,” Hill said. “In the interest of public safety, if they are allowed to continue to exist, they should be regulated, and if not, they should not be permitted at all. Currently, they are operating under a loophole in the law.”
The bill next goes to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who was a leading proponent of Proposition 64, the 2016 initiative approved by voters that legalized the growing, sale and possession of marijuana for recreational use.
The governor’s office declined to discuss his thoughts on the bills proposed.
“As is typically the case with pending legislation, if and when a bill reaches the governor’s desk it will be evaluated on its own merits,” said Jesse Melgar, a spokesman for Newsom.
The bill that Hill shelved would have required the California Highway Patrol to inspect buses and limousines to make sure driver compartments are sealed off and separately ventilated.
Hill’s measure was supported by the California Cannabis Industry Assn., which wrote to lawmakers that it “establishes appropriate industry standards for cannabis tourism, while improving the safety of both passengers and drivers.”
The bill allowing pot use was opposed by law enforcement officials including the Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys, which said it was “illusory” that the driver could be sealed off from marijuana-smoking passengers.
“We are aware of no compartments on a bus which effectively seal the driver from exposure to the remainder of the coach itself,” the prosecutors said in a letter to lawmakers.
The group said the divisions in taxis and limousines can be opened and closed by drivers, “virtually assuring that a driver of one of those vehicles will be exposed to — and impaired by — second-hand marijuana smoke.”